1st Edition

Environmental Humanities in Central Asia Relations Between Extraction and Interdependence

Edited By Jeanne Féaux de la Croix, Beatrice Penati Copyright 2024
    316 Pages 42 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book is the first collection to showcase the flourishing field of environmental humanities in Central Asia. A region larger than Europe, Central Asia possesses an astounding range of environments, from deserts to glaciated peaks.

    The volume brings into conversation scholarship from history to social anthropology, demonstrating the contribution that interdisciplinary and engaged research offers to many urgent issues in the region: from the history of conservationism to the tactics of environmental movements, from literary engagements with ‘pure nature’ to the impact of fossil fuel extraction. The collection focuses on the Central Asian republics of the former USSR, where a complex layering of nomadic and sedentary, Turkic and Persianate, Islamic and Soviet cultures ends up affecting human relations with distinct environments. Featuring state-of-the-art contributions, the book enquires into human-environment relations through a broad-brush typology of interactive modes: to extract, protect, enspirit and fear. Broadening the scope of analysis beyond a consideration of power, the authors bring into focus alternative local cosmologies and the unintended consequences of environmental policy. The volume highlights scholarship from within Central Asia as well as expertise elsewhere, offering readers diverse modes of knowledge-production in the environmental humanities.

    This book is an important resource for researchers and students of the environmental humanities, sustainability, history, politics, anthropology and geography of Asia, as well as Soviet and Post-Soviet studies.

    Chapter 11 of this book is freely available as a downloadable Open Access PDF at http://www.taylorfrancis.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives (CC-BY-NC-ND) 4.0 license.



    Jeanne Féaux de la Croix and Beatrice Penati


    Part I: Extractivism


    1. There Used to Be Water: Soviet Water Policies, Archaeologists and Ethnographers in Central Asia

    Irina Arzhantseva and Heinrich Härke


    2. Administrations, Herders and Experts: Crossing Sources and Scales to Write a Social History of Overgrazing in Soviet Kazakhstan (1960-1980)

    Isabelle Ohayon


    3. Environmental and Community Preservation in the face of Fossil Fuel Development: The Case of Berezovka, Kazakhstan

    Kate Watters


    Part II: Paternalism and Protection


    4. Saiga Antelopes (Saiga Tatarica) in the Environmental History of the Qazaq Steppe and Desert

    David Moon


    5. To Tame, Improve, Protect: Environmental Discourse in Soviet Graphic Satire, 1950s-1991

    Flora J. Roberts


    6. What is in the Air? Citizen Science, Eco-Internationalism and Urban Air Pollution in Bishkek and Almaty

    Xeniya Prilutskaya


    Part III: Enspirited Nature


    7. Get Set! Horse Training as a Discontinuous Action: A Central Asian Physiology that Forces Nature, but is in Tune with the Seasons

    Carole Ferret


    8. Relating to People, Homeland and Environment the Kyrgyz Way? A Dialogue Between Activism and Engaged Scholarship

    Gulnara Aitpaeva and Jeanne Féaux de la Croix


    9. The Bee-Human: Imagining a New Qazaq identity in Oralkhan Bökei’s Novel Atau-Kere

    Laura Berdikhojayeva


    Part IV: Threats from Nature


    10. Climate Disaster or Anticipated Crisis? Ways of Knowing the Environment in Pre-Soviet Central Asia

    Jeanine Dağyeli


    11. The Power of Apricot: Border Disputes, Land Scarcity and Mobility in the Isfara River Basin

    Asel Murzakulova


    12. Water and Irrigation Arrangements in the Pamirs of Tajikistan

    Andrei Dörre



    Jeanne Féaux de la Croix is a social anthropologist based at the University of Bern, Switzerland.

    Beatrice Penati is a Lecturer in Russian and Eurasian history at the University of Liverpool, UK.

    “Through innovative approaches in the environmental humanities, the authors of this collective volume explore the vital cultures and economies of the five countries of Central Asia, a region of mountains and glaciers, deserts and treeless steppe, and rivers plundered for irrigation and industrial purposes. They reveal the complex interactions between humans and nature, and between economic development imperatives and environmental protection strategies, all against the backdrop of powerful agricultural and political traditions. The authors go far beyond analysis of Soviet colonialism, providing rich interdisciplinary and universal perspectives in commodity, water and animal histories whose messages are based on eyewitness accounts, scientific sources, government documents, literary works – and on reeds, apricots and horses.”

    Paul R. Josephson, Professor Emeritus, Colby College, USA

    “With Environmental Humanities in Central Asia, editors Jeanne Feaux de la Croix and Beatrice Penati have mapped out a generous, interdisciplinary invitation to a new field. A diverse ‘collective’ of scholars – junior, senior, Central Asian, global – has anchored a theoretically sophisticated, well-structured vision in a provocative set of empirical studies. The book’s large tent subsumes apricots, antelopes, bees, horses, and reeds; oil, pasturage, community water management, and Soviet-era hydraulics; historical legacies, authoritarianism, and activism around pollution and extractivism; environmental imaginaries, fiction, sacredness, and cosmologies. Organized around four core relationship themes -- extractivism, protection, ‘enspiriting’, and fear -- the book dissolves disciplinary boundaries, challenges assumptions, and provides roadmaps for additional research.”  

    Judith Schapiro, Professor, American University, Washington, D.C., USA